10 Common Thyroid Symptoms and What They Mean for Your Health
While your thyroid gland is small, don’t underestimate the huge role it plays when it comes to your everyday bodily functions. The thyroid is a crucial component in terms of the function of your cells and organs and the rate at which they function. From your metabolism to how fast your heart is beating – it all relies on the thyroid. With Thyroid Awareness Month being right around the corner in January, now is the best time to go over all of the important facts about the thyroid - namely thyroid disorders, thyroid symptoms, treatments, and overall thyroid health.
- The thyroid is an endocrine gland found in the front of the neck that creates essential thyroid hormones that are vital for controlling the rate of important bodily functions, like metabolism and heart rate.
- Common thyroid issues include goiter, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, thyroid cancer, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and thyroid nodules.
- The most common thyroid symptoms to be aware of include slowed or increased heart rate, fatigue or trouble sleeping, weight gain or loss, intolerance of cold or hot temperatures, swelling, and more.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland wrapped around the windpipe that lies in the front of your neck and lives just above your collarbone. As one of the endocrine glands, which make hormones, the hormones created by the thyroid help control the rate of important bodily functions, influence the activity of the tissues, and ensure that the cells in your body work normally (1). These bodily functions can range from how fast you burn calories to how fast your heart beats. If that makes you think of your metabolism – you’d be right! The thyroid gland influences the metabolism of your cells by regulating the speed at which your cells work.
When it comes to thyroid issues, they can be very common and tend to mainly affect women, even anyone can be affected. According to the British Thyroid Foundation, about one in 20 people has some kind of thyroid disorder, which can be temporary or permanent (2). Common thyroid issues and disorders include:
- Goiter (the enlargement of the thyroid gland)
- Hyperthyroidism (occurs when the thyroid gland secretes too much thyroid hormones, causing the body’s cells to work faster than normal)
- Hypothyroidism (when the thyroid gland does not secrete enough thyroid hormones)
- Thyroiditis (swelling of the thyroid)
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition where the body’s cells attack the thyroid)
- Thyroid nodules (lumps found in the thyroid gland)
- Thyroid cancer (1)
Graves’ disease is also associated with the thyroid, as it is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism (3).
10 Thyroid Symptoms You Should Know
In terms of thyroid symptoms, some of the most common thyroid symptoms will differ based on the thyroid disorder. For instance, if you have an overactive thyroid – a.k.a. hyperthyroidism – the increased activity of your body cells or organs may lead to thyroid symptoms such as a quickened heart rate. On the other hand, hypothyroidism can cause your cells and organs to slow down which can cause thyroid symptoms such as the intestines working sluggishly, causing constipation (2).
The top 10 thyroid symptoms you should know and be aware of are:
- Slowed/Increased Heart Rate: As mentioned previously, overactive thyroids can cause a quickened heart rate. On the flip side, underactive thyroids can cause a slower heart rate than normal (2).
- Bowel Movements: Increased activity of the body’s cells and organs can cause increased activity of your intestines, causing frequent bowel movements or diarrhea. However, an underactive thyroid can cause constipation from slower intestinal activity.
- Fatigue/Trouble Sleeping: With hypothyroidism, patients can report feeling a lot more tired than usual. With hyperthyroidism, however, a common symptom is having trouble sleeping (4).
- Temperature Issues: Patients with hypothyroidism report feeling cold more often, while patients with hyperthyroidism report heat intolerance (2).
- Weight Gain/Loss: Hypothyroidism can lead to weight gain, while hyperthyroidism can lead to sudden weight loss (2).
- Mental Health: Often with both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, common issues include depression and anxiety.
- Poor Concentration: A thyroid symptom often associated with hypothyroidism. Patients can similarly report feeling forgetful.
- Sore and Gritty Eyes: A thyroid symptom associated with hyperthyroidism (2).
- Swelling: Those with an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter) will experience swelling in the neck (5).
- Muscle Weakness and Tremors: Often associated with an overactive thyroid (4).
Among the thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism is considered to be the most common disorder (2). However, don’t let this allow you to count out other issues. A trip to your physician will be the best bet if you’re experiencing issues like the thyroid symptoms listed above. To diagnose thyroid disorders, doctors will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and perform thyroid tests among some other methods. In terms of treatment, common hospital therapies are daily medication, thyroid hormone treatments, or thyroid surgery.
For diagnosis and testing, doctors can perform:
- Thyroid antibody tests
- A biopsy
- A thyroid scan/imaging tests/ultrasound
- Thyroid hormone tests (1)
How to Support Your Thyroid Health
While doing at-home treatments and remedies at home won’t cure a thyroid disorder at home, a combination of the right diet, nutrients, routine upkeep, and medication can help address your thyroid function and minimize your thyroid symptoms. Some tips to help support and stay-on-top of your thyroid health include:
1. Selenium is an essential mineral for thyroid health, as it helps activate thyroid hormones so they can be used by the body’s cells. You can find selenium in Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, salmon, cod, sea bass, tuna, sardines, eggs, and legumes (6).
2. Iodine is another essential mineral needed to make thyroid hormones, so avoiding an iodine deficiency is key for your thyroid health. You can find iodine in sources such as iodized table salt, seaweed, seafood, dairy, and eggs (7).
3. Upkeep a zinc intake, as it has a similar role to selenium. Zinc can be found in oysters, shellfish, and chicken.
4. Limit foods high in soy protein, as large amounts of soy can interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormones (8). This includes tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk.
5. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Avoid those with goitrogens that may interfere with the normal function of the thyroid such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears, strawberries, and cauliflower (7).
6. Stick to healthy fats and oils along with simple carbohydrates. Reduce saturated fats and eat foods that are rich in omega-3s.
7. Avoid highly processed foods.
8. Avoid too much selenium and iodine intake. A healthcare professional will help you decide if you have a mineral or vitamin deficiency that requires supplements or not.
9. Coffee, green tea, and alcohol can irritate the thyroid.
10. Eat whole-grain foods or gluten-free grains and seeds (7).
Written by Selena Ponton